This is the parable of the prodigal son aka one of the most famous passages in all of scripture. If you were raised in a churchy context I’m sure you have known this parable your whole life, acted it out in Sunday School, discussed it at a bible study, etc, etc. But I think the practice of wondering is most helpful in these deeply familiar passages. It allows us to see them in new ways. So as you read through this well known passage, what new wonderings arise?
11 Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. 12 The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them. 13 Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living.
14 “When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. 15 He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything. 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. 21 Then his son said, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! 23 Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting 24 because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.
25 “Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. 27 The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ 28 Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. 29 He answered his father, ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’ 31 Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”
As the oldest sibling I always wonder about the older brother. Did he have any idea his younger sibling was going to take the money and run? Was any part of him relieved to see his brother go? Or was he sad, missing his friend? What was the older brother thinking all the years the younger brother was gone? Was the older brother picking up the slack, silently cursing his younger brother and growing more resentful by the day? Or once the shock faded did he look at where his brother’s coat used to hang and feel that pang of sorrow? I imagine it was a mix of all of those.
Why was he so furious about the party? Did he deem it too extravagant? I wonder if that moment was just a release of years of pent up anger. Anger he couldn’t stop his brother from leaving, anger that his brother was gone for so long, anger that his brother is seemingly rewarded for bad behavior. If I’m honest, I would’ve been angry too. I wonder if the older brother heeded his fathers wishes and went to the party or if he just went straight to bed.
I wonder about the servants. Was their workload increased by the younger brothers departure or lessened? How did they feel when the brother returned? Were they bitter as they prepared the feast? Did they think of all the privileges the family enjoyed that, as servants, they never would? Or were they able to share in the father’s joy? Did the younger brother’s return bring with it a sense of wholeness that even those not in the family could feel or was it just another day?
I wonder what it cost the father to let his son go. Was he wise enough to know that if he forced his son to stay that could only breed tension and he may lose his son anyway? How did this change the father’s relationship with his older son? Did it bring them closer together? I could imagine heart to heart chats as the father views the older son as more of a fellow adult and less of a child. But I can also imagine misunderstandings on both sides and a wound that never quite healed.
I think the younger son gets most of the attention whenever this parable is taught so I will go ahead and leave you to wonder about him on your own. As I read this parable today my biggest wondering is, “What happened next?” Is this truly a family restored? Probably not. At least not right away. But I like to believe they worked at it and eventually they found wholeness.